Category Archives: Post-Colonialism

Movie Discussion: The Handmaiden (2016) by Park Chan-Wook


Juan, Anne, Yisheng, and Aaron showed up for the screening. We discussed the ambivalence towards lesbianism depicted in the film. It’s generally a positive portrayal although the sex scenes appear to be fetishized for a male heterosexual audience. While the film inherited this flaw from the book, we wondered why there is no positive portrayal of men. We also talked about the colonial period the film is set in and if the director is making a statement about Korea. Finally, we discussed the film technique, camera movements, and the prevalence of green color in the film. I guess green is the warmest color for Park.

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Filed under Colonialism, Lesbian, Love, Post-Colonialism, South Korea

61st Discussion: Maureen F. McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang

Moderator: Aaron
Attendees: Dominic, Faizal, Hisham, Javin, Jiaqi, Timmy

mchugh, maureen - chinamountainzhangThis is one of the rare times that we decided to do a (gay) science fiction book. Everyone had something to pick on with the book – from its setting (Javin found it “unnecessary” and depressing, Dominic thought it was a dauntingly boring disturbia, Jiaqi didn’t think there was enough “sci-fi” and advanced technology to classify it as futuristic) to the writing style (Raj didn’t find it appealing, Timmy thought it was too static and sterile) and even to how prehistoric some concepts were (Aaron scoffed at the idea of cruising despite being set in the future).

THEMES
1. Structure: Jiaqi liked the diversity in showcasing the varied characters, which Javin disagreed with as he could not invest in them as much. Raj hated having to connect all the dots, which Aaron added made the book all the more messy and chaotic. Hisham felt that it could have been done better.

2. Homosexuality: Everyone agreed that homosexuals were stereotypically portrayed here, from the rich ang mohs to the Chinese gays with the inability to say no to everything. The happy ending that Zhang received drew ire from Aaron and Javin, who felt like it was forced, though Raj and Jiaqi thought otherwise, even if it was clichéd.

3. Women: Portrayed negatively except for the Korean woman (Jiaqi), and the doctor, who came across as domineering (Hisham).

4. Racism: Raj quipped that despite being set in the future, the only thing that was progressive was the food. Aaron pointed out that the Chinese characters suffered terrible fates, eliciting a rather long racism rant.

5. Relationships: The gay relationships featured came across as passive (Dominic) and devoid of love (Javin), to which Jiaqi vehemently opposed, commenting that it was filled with affection. Timmy noted that the heterosexual relationships showed the most growth throughout the book.

Dysfunctional, queer (Aaron) and atypical (Raj) were used to describe the familial relationships, though Jiaqi thought the families featured were portrayed normally.

CHARACTERS

1. Jiaqi didn’t think Angel was a fully developed character, and whose only sole purpose in the book was to be the information superhighway to Cinnabar, according to Dominic. Aaron saw her as a fag hag, to which Javin quipped that her being a fag hag gave her the opportunity to win races.

2. Everyone agreed that Peter was the most well-adjusted out of all: partly because he came off as relaxed and was able to come to terms with himself (Javin), and mainly because he was ang moh and didn’t worry about others’ opinions (Raj). Jiaqi deduced that Peter had it easier than Zhang. Peter is Javin’s favourite character.

3. Aaron thought that as a character, Cinnibar was not properly fleshed out.

4. Raj viewed Matador as another typical young gay boy who didn’t give a hoot about the world, to which Aaron concluded that he was another whiny bottom who just wanted to be taken care of.

5. Based on our observations, Hai Bao was set up as Zhang’s (life?) mentor. His suicide served as a milestone in Zhang’s life, causing him to “wake up” from his “catatonic” state.

6. We looked at Martine as a repressed being who had difficulty expressing her emotions. Timmy envisioned her to be like the ultimate on-screen ice queen, Tilda Swinton.

7. Aaron selected Zhang as his favourite character; citing his determination that gave everyone hope. Jiaqi liked that he was funny, relatable and sympathetic.

The question as to whether he was a depressed individual elicited two responses – Jiaqi, Dominic and Timmy didn’t think that he was ever in that state in the first place, while Raj and Aaron believed that he was.

We also questioned his decision/motive of revealing his sexual orientation to San Xiang at the end, and wrote it off as him finally accepting and being comfortable with himself.

In rounding up the discussion, everyone generally had nice things to say about the book – that it was interesting (Dominic), an “MRT-friendly” read (Raj), likeable and memorable characters (Jiaqi) and being enjoyable overall (Timmy). Aaron appreciated the literary values the book brought across, and being one of the only few books that saw the gay man eventually getting his happy ending (pun not intended). Hisham profoundly expressed that the book made our #firstworldproblems seem minute in comparison. Javin succinctly summed it up best: “It’s a gay book.”

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Filed under China, Class, Colonialism, Ecology, Family, Gay, Love, Maureen F. McHugh, Politics, Post-Colonialism, Race, S/F, Space, Technology, USA, War

55th Discussion: Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim, Two Boys

Moderator: Aaron
Attendees: Alexius, Amit, Har, Jiaqi, Luke, Raj, Timmy

OPENINGo'neil - at_swim_two_boys.large

The general consensus was that we did not like this book. Raj did not manage to finish the book (a first time for everything!) and felt that it was draggy, which Aaron and Alexius agreed. The latter also felt that the drama was outdated, with the scenes being too long and equated it as a “Hong Kong TVB drama.” Jiaqi felt that the book was a tough read, to which Har agreed, saying that it was not an immediate appreciation. Aaron further added that the storyline felt childish and amateurish.

THEMES AND CHARACTERS

Aaron brought up the quote by Aunt Nancy: “All Love Does Ever Rightly Show Humanity Our Tenderness.” Timmy philosophized that despite the war, humans are still capable to love, whereas Jiaqi thought the quote as just another quote. Aaron opined that it tied in with the theme of story – of love, humanity and tenderness. Raj equated Aldershot (taking the first letters) as a gay town.

We talked about Mr Mack, whom Raj thought of as an opportunist, leeching off the aunt. Both Har and Jiaqi shared a love-hate relationship with the character, not liking him because he was a control freak but subsequently liking him when he started showing sympathy and understanding towards Jim.  Alexius viewed him as “a big strategist,” while Aaron thought of Mr Mack as a comical character.

In comparing Jim & Doyler’s relationship and Mr Mack & Doyler’s relationship, Alexius commented that “Jim was not his father” and thus, their relationships were dissimilar. The biggest difference between the two was that Jim and Doyler had sex with each other, while Mr Mack and Doyler’s maintained only friendly decorum. Aaron then asked whether was it better to be in first generation (Mr Mack & D’s father = friends) or the second generation (J & D = fucking), to which Raj answered the second gen, while Har felt the first gen had the better ending.

MacMurrough the schizophrenic was then discussed. Alexius viewed him as a lonely person who created the imaginary friend as his companion. Jiaqi disagreed, as he felt that MacMurrough could differentiate and instead perceived him as a conflicted character who struggled with being gay. Aaron brought up about the voices that disappeared in the second half of the book, which he observed as MacMurrough’s transformation from self-hatred to love, thanks to Jim. Har thought that the voices were akin to his subconscious.

Everyone had differing views of MacMurrough’s relationships with Jim and Doyler. Jiaqi reckoned that MacMurrough loved J and wanted him to be happy, while being physically attracted to D. Aaron viewed M and J’s relationship as one of pure love, while D has a lot of sex with him. At the other end of the spectrum, Har felt that the relationship with J was purely platonic, while it was romantic when he was with D.

Jamie O'Neill's At Swim, Two BoysDoyler’s rape was brought up as well as what happened that made MacMurrough feel that he was not in control. Timmy quipped that it was because D was a power bottom, while Jiaqi opined that M needed D more than vice-versa.

We also discussed at length MacMurrough’s encounters with his 10-year-old self.

Everyone gushed about the washerwoman, and her initial introduction in the book. Unanimously, everyone agreed that she symbolized Ireland – the motherland that nurtures you (Jiaqi) and someone who is associated with patriotism, land and nature (Aaron). Raj saw her as a simple country folk who enjoy the simple things in life.

Aaron then brought specific examples (the 300 Spartans, the Irish Oscar Wilde exchange, Jim’s internalization of the soldier’s speech as his love for Doyler) and suggested that the author was trying to associate Ireland with homosexuality, which drew a negative reaction from Jiaqi, who felt that it was more about identity as opposed to homosexuality, and zero responses from the rest.

The women characters were then brought up. Har saw Eva as a revolutionist; an independent and modern character who embodied the fighting spirit, though ultimately she was forgettable. Aaron felt that she was the weakest character and was written as a fag hag, while Alexius imagined her as a “menopausal butch who transformed into Mother Theresa” towards the end of the book. Jiaqi was favourable towards her, who thought that she was well portrayed and had a few funny moments. Raj thought of her as elite

As for Nancy, Jiaqi felt that she was only a minor character in the book, while Aaron saw her as a motherly figure who was nurturing towards everyone.

And none for Sawney.

When asked whether the book was reductive towards the other gender, Har succinctly described that the book was not a feminist book.

We talked about the ending and questioned whether it was a happy or sad one. Both Har and Alexius viewed it as a happy ending, because “they finally met in the end” (Har) and “(the book) finally ended” (Alexius). Jiaqi, however, thought it was a sad ending as the main characters died. Amit thought it was a predictable end, as “everyone knows there won’t be a happy ending” whereas Aaron felt that the ending was “appropriate.”

FAVOURITES

Characters

Raj liked Sawney, the insightful butch with a beard.

Alex picked Gordie, whom he viewed as not a minor character.

Jiaqi and Aaron had their JLo references, with the former’s favourite character being Doyler as he “felt like a real person” while the latter selected MacMurrough due to his struggles in defining himself.

Scenes

Alexius thought there were no memorable scenes in the book, though he brought up the one of the priest molesting Jim.

Jiaqi, Raj and Aaron were unanimous in picking the realization that MacMurrough’s washerwoman was Doyler’s mother as their favourite scene(s), with Raj describing it as funny and one that is of “self-irony.”

LAST WORDS

Jamie O'Neill's At Swim, Two BoysIn rounding up the discussion, we went around asking for something positive of the book. Raj promised to finish reading it, even though the pdf version gave him headaches. Amit thought it was romantic of the author to continue working on the book to 600+ pages, as opposed to taking the quick way out and cut it short. Jiaqi thought it was a good book and themes were very well done. Har, probably the only fanboy of the book, said that it was touching and “made him cry a lot.” He also commented that the writing technique was “very Irish and filled with proses.”

Alex commented that given the size of the book, one can use it to train the bicep. He further added that the author’s sleeve photo portrayed him accurately (read: a psychopath). Timmy added on to Alex’s quip by joking that the book can also be used as paperweight and/or killer litter.

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Filed under Class, Classics, Colonialism, Disability, Family, Gay, Ireland, Love, Post-Colonialism, War

39th Discussion: Virginia Woolf’s Orlando

Notes written by the multi-talented Timmy. He can moderate discussions, he can write and he can kiss his boyfriend all over town. Hooray!

      

Foods served this week were fried chicken, chips, blue cheese dip, and an “indescribable” cake which turned out to be zucchini. “The selection of foods for this month is meant to be as confusing as the book,” explained Raj-ella Lawson.

Aaron moderated the discussion, which was joined by Raj, Alexius, Joshua, Alex, Glenn, Ernest and Timmy.

First Impressions

Alexius was up first, and said that the book was too descriptive, chunky, draggy and “not MRT friendly.” Joshua, however, thought the book was well-written, despite the plot being non-coherent. Raj was appreciative of Virginia’s writing style, though he did mention that this was a book that he would not like. Alex could not remember much about it, while Aaron had no opinion of the book except that it was “avant-garde.”

Themes

Plot

Joshua found the story itself as illogical; Alex described it as irrational and hysterical. As the book was written during the Second World War, Alexius jest that perhaps Virginia could not keep track of her writing. Aaron explained it could be so due to the limitations of a biography. Both Raj and Timmy joked that the author may have just randomly input things just so that it is compiled as the book.

Transition/Narrative styles

Raj felt that Virginia portrayed women well, and commented that the switching of writing styles went well with the sexes (males = action oriented; females = word oriented). Aaron, however, disagreed and thought that the changes in narrative styles were more in correlation with the time period as opposed to gender. Joshua felt that the transitions were jarring. Alexius thought that the transition as a whole was absurd and speculated that the author may have “an agenda.”

“How has Orlando changed throughout the course of the book?”

“Clothes,” said Alexius candidly. He also mentioned sexual preference, which led Alex to ask: “Was he always straight?” Raj highlighted Orlando’s preference for girls who look like guys when he was still a male.

Aaron, Raj, Alexius and Joshua perceived Orlando as an androgynous character – feminine male, then masculine female. Alexius found Orlando’s transformation as a male to be more interesting compared to when he/she was a woman.

Chapter 3 (aka the dancing goddesses/sex change scene)

Raj joked that the dancing women were akin to the three (good) witches of Macbeth.

According to the passage, the three ladies were representations of modesty, chastity and purity. Timmy asked if these are qualities that women of those times should attain. Raj replied that the three values were the epitome of womanhood. Aaron, however, countered that they seemed to be imposed limitations so that women of those times could be culturally accepted. Joshua agreed with Aaron’s sentiments. Alex quipped that these are the qualities that none of us have. We all laughed because this is legit information.

Cross-dressing

Alex speculated if Virginia had lesbian tendencies. Aaron clarified the book was written for her girlfriend. Raj found it to be a dramatic twist to the story. Alexius questioned if Virginia and Orlando could be the same person, as both shared the same personalities and liked poetry. Someone then joked that the oak tree symbolised the male appendage.

Marriage and child

“What’s the point (of including them)?” Aaron exasperatedly asked. Raj equated it to a marriage of convenience. The two of them noted that the sailor came out of nowhere, as well as the child (“magical child,” as Aaron put it).

“A lot of things in this book happened for Orlando’s benefit,” Raj highlighted.

Longevity

Besides Orlando, Aaron highlighted that Nick Green and Mr Dupper lived very long lives in the book. “Why them? Especially Nick Green, in particular?” asked Aaron. Joshua said this was done to show how Orlando has changed. Raj added on that Orlando needed the men, as writing was perceived as a man’s job at that point in time.

Foreigners

Aaron asked of their treatment in the book. Raj felt that it was barbaric, while Joshua surmised that the English have a superiority complex.

The ending

“She bares her breasts to the moon.”

Timmy quipped that she can’t do it to the sun as she may get sunburn. Joshua described the gesture as a mark of sexuality. Aaron and Alex believed it to mean femininity. Alex then joked that Orlando was turning into Chang Er.

Final say

Aaron liked the book even more after the discussion. Joshua concurred, even though he still found it confusing. Raj didn’t hate the book as much, though he hoped to go through some parts of the book quickly to finish it. Alexius didn’t like the book. The rest of us reserved our judgments.

We grew bored discussing the book through the middle of the discussion, so we decided to end it quickly to catch up with one another instead, which is more fun as compared to talking about Virginia Woolf and Orlando.

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Filed under Bisexuality, Class, Classics, Family, Love, Post-Colonialism, Queer, Transgender, Transvestism, UK, Virginia Woolf

34th Discussion: Aska Mochizuki’s Spinning Tropics (17 May)

Terri came by to say hi while Henry was coerced into sitting in with us. We all wondered, how in the world did the book win an award? The complaints are: no depth in plot and character; simplistic language; fetishizes Vietnamese culture (Nick’s point).

Themes:

1. Love VS Lust: Nick believed that Hiro-Konno relationship is lustful while Hiro-Yun, love. Such a separation of love/lust is relatable to Nick. However, for Alex, love/lust come hand-in-hand: the fact that Hiro is troubled over breaking up with Konno means she loves him to a certain extent.

2. Time: Nick brought up the unspecific time period irked him.

3. Fluidity of sexuality in women.

4. Racism: Timmy talked about the contradiction of Hiro/Mochizuki’s confusion, how she escapes from Japan to other countries because she dislikes Japan, yet at the same time, her racial pride makes her put Vietnamese down as stupid, naive children.

5. Homophobia: p. 38 and p. 41 describe Vietnamese men as effeminate, which, to Hiro, means they seem gay. Hiro has a stereotype of connecting gay men with femininity. “Real” men, to Hiro, have to be super duper masculine.

Alex pointed that Hiro’s sex/gender notion is very wrapped and homophobic as Hiro needs a penis to remind her that she is a woman: another classic case of lesbianophobia, that women need to be fucked now and then and there cannot be a pure lesbian.

6. Mother-Daughter relationship/family: Nick suggested that Hiro’s relationship with her mother is reminiscent of many gay men’s relationships with their mother. “Is it because of a lack of father figure that Hiro gravitates towards masculine figures?” Nick pondered.

Alex cautioned that if we think that way, we are falling into the trap of Mochizuki’s sexist mind, of essentializing what is masculine and feminine.

Alex also pointed out how Hiro has slept with her mother’s ex-boyfriend as a form of juvenile rebellion.

Yamada and her husband’s dynamics are interesting but we were too lackluster to talk about them.

The only happy family seems to be the Vietnamese one but even Yun’s family isn’t very happy, with disputes over money. All Vietnamese are described as money-grubbing in the novel, obviously criticizing the country.

Characters

1.  Konno: We were all in love with the tall, broad-shouldered Konno except for Nick. Alex loves Konno for being able to “make a vagina quiver long after its absence” as described in the novel.

2. Yun: Another contradiction occurs here: sometimes Hiro claims that Yun and she are soulmates, yet at other times, Hiro thinks Yun is child-like and beyond comprehension, which goes back to the point on racism, of never knowing the racial Other.

Timmy hates Yun for being so needy.

Yun’s returning to men is reasoned that she thinks there is no future in a lesbian relationship. (homophobia)

3. Hiro: Alex hated her that she cannot reflect on her emotions and actions.

By the end of the discussion, we felt dirty and horrible. Timmy expressed our feelings best: “After reading the book, I feel hollow inside.” Alex said, “If I knew her email address, I’d write her a hate mail.” Writing this discussion notes incenses Aaron. What a horrible, homophobic, racist, sexist book. How did such a repulsive book ever go to print in the first place? Aaron feels like vomiting now.

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Filed under Aska Mochizuki, Family, Japan, Lesbian, Love, Politics, Post-Colonialism, Race, Religion, Time, Vietnam

21st Discussion: Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (18 Jun)

This was a short session, which didn’t do justice to such a complex book, because the festivity of Pink Dot made it difficult to discuss.

It’s a 2-2 vote for the book. Timmy disliked the book because it was overly scientific and ambitious although he is willing to give the book another go; Alex disliked the later part because of the tedious description of the journey. On the other hand, Raj and Aaron loved the book very much. Not his preferred genre, Raj was surprised at how he could relate the book to real life. Aaron liked the complexity, intricacies and the journey of a homophobic to a non-homophobic person.

1. Favorite character: Alex and Aaron both liked the handsomest “man/woman” in the book because he is evil.

2. Sex: Timmy felt that Le Guin seems to be playing god because she dictates the roles of sex in beings.

a. Incest: Both Timmy and Alex felt that the incest isn’t creepy.

b. Lesbianism.

c. Mother/Father figure: Timmy thought that a being which can be either a mother or a father questions religion.

d. Estraven-Genly Ai: Do they have sex? Alex didn’t think so; Aaron thought it was suggested, like the camera shifting from a kissing scene into the embers of dying fire. Aaron said that it is reasonable for them to have sex because then they would be connected by soul and body. Timmy said that’s cheesy.

e. Prostitution: Alex brought up that it is interesting that there are bordellos and that part should be explored and would potentially be interesting. Timmy related the bordello to a gay sauna.

f. Sexuality: The sexuality of the beings defies any forms of categorization. They are gay, straight, bisexual, and transgender, all roll into one.

3. War: Do wars exist only because of the aggression in the male sex? The novel is ambiguous.

4. Politics: Aaron thought the “shifgrethor” (saving face and avoiding confrontation) is reminiscent of Singapore’s politics; but Timmy suggested that it is applicable to Asian societies.

5. Style: Alex brought up the style of the novel, claiming that the novel is overly complicated with two narrators, legends, myths, etc. Aaron suggests that this would provide an holistic picture, demonstrating Genly’s flaws.

Other issues not discussed are technology, ecology, post-colonialism, religion, and race.

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Filed under Bisexuality, Classics, Family, Intersex, Politics, Post-Colonialism, Queer, Race, Religion, S/F, Space, Technology, Time, Transgender, Transsexualism, Ursula Le Guin, USA, War

19th Discussion: Colm Toibin’s Mothers and Sons (20 Apr 2011)

Book club started off with three members having lukewarm responses to the book (Raj: “no new material and no excitement in the stories”; Timmy: “repressed emotions not expressed, painful”; and Nicole: “repeated themes”). On the other hand, Alex liked the 2.5 stories he read and Aaron claimed it is the best book the book club has done. They adored the style, a “surface” writing that brings out the depth of emotions; and the complexity of characters, neither condemning nor apotheosizing them.

1. “A Song”: Alex’s fav. Alex reasoned that the lack of climax in the story mirrors real life. He also found the relationship of the mother and son heartbreaking: they probably think of each other over the years yet they do not want to break the silence.

2. “Use of Reason”: Raj’s fav. because of the realism. Nicole noted the theme of violence that adds to the realism. Timmy noted the lack of father figure in the book, except for the nameless narrator in this story. (We didn’t talk about the significance of the anonymity.) Nicole brought out how emotionally detached the character is and Aaron linked the points together: the character is stoic because of the death of his brother, Billy, which his mother points out in one of the rare moments of her sobriety. That’s why only after what the mother says does he have an epiphany, to burn the stolen paintings. Burning, Timmy suggested, is a way of letting go.

3. “A Journey”: Nicole’s fav. Nicole pointed out how empowered the mothers in the stories are. She also notes the helplessness of the son, incapacitated by his depression.

4. Timmy and Raj, on hearing about power women, talked about “A Summer Job.” They had an impression of the mother pushing her son to her mother although, Raj pointed out, the ending is ambiguous. Do we truly understand the son?

5. Another powerful mother figure is “Name of the Game,” Timmy’s favorite. He enjoyed how a strong, independent single mother rises against all odds to provide for her family. Alex kept having an impression that the single mother has to fend off advances from men; at any moment, Alex expected the mother to “suck dick,” which she doesn’t. Aaron didn’t like how the daughters aren’t developed properly as characters. Raj stood up for the son in the story: how could the mother sell away the family business? While agreeing with Raj, Nicole and Aaron batted for the other team: Nicole said perhaps the mother doesn’t want her son to follow in his father’s footsteps while Aaron commented that the mother has her own life to lead, a life without prejudice from the town people, and besides the son is too young to know any better. We all agreed it is a nasty business altogether.

6. “A Long Winter”: Aaron’s fav. He liked the sexy scene of the policeman and Miquel, a scene which Timmy calls “eye-fucking.” Aaron argued that there is an incestuous element in Miquel’s love for his mother, evident in how he smells her underwear. The rest of the members disagreed. Aaron then went on to strengthen his incest point, by pointing out Manolo, the manservant, is a stand-in for Miquel’s mother, and Miquel has desires for Manolo, although the manservant is asexual. When talking about the ending, Aaron couldn’t fathom why the father-son duo hates the vultures so much and Nicole elucidated that the vultures are metaphors of the town people, feeding on gossip. Small-town gossip seems to be the running theme in the book, besides mother-son relationships and Catholicism.

7. “Three Friends.” This will probably be Alex’s favorite had he read this. Nicole points out that the rave party is cathartic for Fergus, for him to lose himself in spite of his grief. Aaron wondered aloud if it is because of the mother’s death that allows Fergus to enter a relationship or if it is because Mick sees Fergus’s in a different light at the funeral? Either answer seems probable.

8. “A Priest in the Family” is a crowdpleaser, we all loved it. Timmy thought that the initial suspense is that the priest wants to propose to the mother. Raj suggested that the mother keeps delaying the meeting with the priest because she already knows; mothers always know. Aaron pointed out how complex this mother is: she dislikes her son’s behavior yet she stands by him. Timmy continued that in these 9 stories, no matter if you despise or dislike the mothers, they are always there, and always true, and they are neither good nor bad, just making the best out of a bad situation. Raj noted that in all the stories, even though mothers may not be prominently featured, their presence is always felt and is pivotal.

We didn’t booze because Isaac wasn’t around. Special thanks to Raj for his cocktail and tea!

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Filed under Class, Colm Toibin, Family, Gay, Ireland, Love, Politics, Post-Colonialism, Religion, Short Stories